Almost every corner of Scotland has got some evidence of Gaelic in its place-names. Sometimes this is really obvious, other times it’s somewhat more obscure. The Gàidhealtachd – the traditionally Gaelic-speaking part of Scotland – is, as you would expect, rich in Gaelic place-names . These often carry stories and speak of the history of the place, though sometimes their meaning or origin has been lost. Understanding, researching and dissecting them is an ongoing artform and a point of interest for both lay audiences and academics for a long, long time.
For a number of years now an organisation called Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba (AÀA; Gaelic Place-Names of Scotland) have been researching these, and working with Scottish Natural Heritage to produce bilingual booklets disseminating place-names of particular locales. Their latest release is Gaelic in the Landscape: Place-names of Colonsay and Oronsay. Previous editions have focused on Islay and Jura, the North-West Highlands, Strath (Isle of Skye), the Rough Bounds of Lochaber and Gaelic + Norse in the landscape. Each of these publications is beautifully illustrated and – crucially – free to download. I’m really looking forward to delving into the Colonsay and Oronsay booklet, not least to remind me of lovely trips there a few years back.
As well as being really interesting to both researchers and the general audience alike, publications such as these, and the work of AÀA, are crucial to increasing awareness of Gaelic. They are accessible, informed and easy to digest, and provide an important route to understanding how our surroundings and language have shaped each other.
Some Colonsay and Oronsay names which have jumped out at me:
Sruthan na h-Ulaidhe – the stream of the treasure
Uragaig – bay with rock-strewn beach (Norse in origin)
Uinneag Eircheil – Hercules’ window
You can find all the booklets on the SNH website here. The AÀA database is ever-increasing in entries and worth spending a few minutes exploring. Siuthadabh – enjoy!
Over the past wee while, I’ve been working with Kate Davies and her team on their latest venture: Inspired by Islay. A quick scroll through old posts on this blog will show lots of content from Islay; I lived and worked there for a year in 2012-2013. My job involved Gaelic cultural-heritage with particular projects I initiated being about the connection between the landscape and language. It is on this topic that Kate asked me to contribute an essay to the book being produced as part of the project (sidenote: the book has gone to the printers!).
Kate’s work has long impressed me, and I’m chuffed that she has come to me to contribute small bits of work to other projects over the years, where she has wanted to use Gaelic. Gaelic aside, as a knitter and general culture/history-enthusiast I’m always impressed by the thought and consideration that goes into all she (and the wider KDD team) does and produces. Other folk contributing to Inspired by Islay include really astonishing artists, craftspeople, avian experts and photographers, so it is an honour to be included alongside them.
Anyway, the photos here are some snaps from my archive of pictures from Islay. My time on the island wasn’t always a song and a dance so it’s been really lovely revisiting parts of the island I fell for, and exploring further the rich Gàidhealach culture I am part of.
For all of Kate’s blog posts to date on the project see here.
In other news, I started a facebook page for my work. Like, share, comment, etc.
A rare chance to fly up over the Western Isles from Uist – Lewis. The weather wasn’t the best, and nor are my photos, but seeing the islands from the air emphasises just how watery and knobbly they are.
A few snaps from Summer so far.
If you happen to find yourself in Barra on your birthday, as I did recently, I recommend a trip to Kisimul Castle. The plan was originally to climb Rueval, but the rain came in, as did the mist. So, to Kisimul we went instead.
I was surprised by how little interpretation there was throughout the castle. Historic Scotland are not known for their lack of information panels – often quite the reverse. It’s nice being able to visit an historic site and to discover details in your own time, but equally having almost nothing to tell you about the place seems a bit sparse.
It’s a great wee castle. It’s currently being looked after by Historic Scotland, though belongs to the MacNeil family. It is, and was, the seat of the clan MacNeil and still holds a draw for MacNeils around the world. I don’t place much importance on what little remains of the clan system today but it’s easy to see why people would want to travel a distance to visit here.
There’s fantastic history to see at Kisimul, even more enticing by the fact that the early records were lost in a fire, so we know relatively little today. This is despite the castle’s stature and important place within the Medieval period.
If you’re in need of scran when you’re in Castlebay, Cafe Kisimul is delicious. Even better if you’re not paying. Hooray! http://www.cafekisimul.co.uk
Gently emerging from a Winter slumber. Yesterday marked the old New Year. It’s said in Gaelic that from then, each day lengthen’s by a cockerel’s step. “An-diugh, bithidh ceum coilich air an latha”.
Bliadhna mhath ur dhuibh uile. Happy new year, folks.
Last weekend, looking over to one of my favourite islands.
Dol fodha na grèine. Literally, in Gaelic, the sun going under.